If you're looking to pursue adoption in Wisconsin then this is the place to start! Here is a good starting point for research.

Adoption in Wisconsin

The amount of information out there regarding adoptions can be overwhelming and confusing at best. In this article, I am going to try my best to help you understand adoption in Wisconsin. While I am not an adoption expert by any means, I have an adopted child from the state of Wisconsin. I also want to point out that this is not legal advice and I urge you to contact a local Wisconsin agency or attorney for legal advice regarding adoption. With that said, let’s dive right into adoption in Wisconsin.

Types of Adoptions in Wisconsin:

Public Adoptions.

Public adoption, also known as foster care adoption is the adoption of a child who is under the guardianship of the state of Wisconsin. This process can be long and drawn out as the ultimate goal of foster care is parent reunification. When parent reunification is not possible, that is when an adoption can take place.

Relative Adoptions.

Relative adoption is the adoption of a child by a relative when the birth parent places the child in that relative’s home without a court order. In the state of Wisconsin, the term “relative” means a person related to the child either by birth or marriage. This could include a grandparent, stepparent, brother, sister, first cousin, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle.

Stepparent Adoptions.

Stepparent adoption is the adoption of a child by the spouse of one of the biological parents. In order for a stepparent adoption to occur, there must be a death or a termination of parental rights of the other parent. A stepparent adoption cannot take place without one of those two.

Private Domestic Adoptions.

Private domestic adoptions are when a birth mother creates an adoption plan for her unborn child. The birth father may also be involved in the process.

International Adoptions.

International adoptions, also known as intercountry adoption, is the adoption of a child born in another county.  

The Process of Adoption in Wisconsin:

Each of the above-named types of adoption have a little bit of a difference in their processes. While most of the processes are the same, there are a few differences. Make sure to check with your adoption agency, worker, or attorney to make sure you are following what they recommend and require.

Public Adoptions:

This is adopting through what most know as the foster care system. I will note here that the ultimate goal of foster care, however, is parent reunification. I do not want you going into foster care with the hopes of adopting just to learn that the kid could ultimately be placed back with his/her biological parents or family. However, parent reunification is not always possible or in the child’s best interest. That is where adoption comes into play.

To be able to adopt from the foster care system in Wisconsin, you have three options: Become a temporary foster parent, foster to adopt in Wisconsin, or apply to adopt a waiting child from foster care. Temporary foster parents are utilized when a biological parent is unable to parent the child for several different reasons and is working toward a reunification plan. Fostering to adopt is when you take placement of a foster child, knowing that there is a possibility that parent reunification is not possible and the child will most likely become adoptable. Lastly, applying to adopt a waiting child from foster care is applying to adopt a child who is in need of a permanent home because parent reunification is not possible.

In order to become a foster parent in Wisconsin, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Be in good physical and mental health
  • Be able to raise a child in a safe, secure environment
  • Have sufficient funds to meet the child’s needs
  • Have adequate space for the child in your home
  • Complete the proper training requirement
  • Pass a criminal background check

Once you have decided that you would like to consider adopting from the foster care system, I urge you to research the process as much as possible. Of course, nothing will prepare you 100 percent for the journey you are about to begin, having as much knowledge as possible will certainly help. Keep in mind that every situation is different and unique, just like the child or children you will be taking care of. Once you have made it this far, the process is quite easy!

  • Find a local foster adoption agency. You could always start with your local county agency. You may also search out other private or public agencies to work with.
  • Your worker will talk through the foster care process and the requirements to become a foster parent in Wisconsin. However, first, you must complete an application. This can be a lengthy process and requires a lot of paperwork and back-up documentation. This is personal information and is meant to be as truthful as possible. You will also most likely be required to provide letters of recommendation, proof of income, and much more. Check with your agency to see if they have a checklist of things you will be required to produce.
  • You will need to complete a home study. This, too, can be a lengthy process and can seem overwhelming at times. Take it one day at a time. The home study will include interviews, home visits, a review of all the documentation you have provided, background checks, and more to make sure you and your family are physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally prepared for foster care and/or adoption.
  • Once you have been 100 percent approved, you can officially be matched with a child. Again, the foster care route you are going will determine how you are matched with a child. If you are a temporary foster parent, this will be on an “as-needed” basis. If you are looking to foster to adopt, again it will be on an as-needed basis and when the situation fits your family’s and the child’s needs. Lastly, if you are looking to adopt a child already waiting to be placed with a family, contact your worker regarding that specific child.
  • The actual adoption of a foster child can be a very lengthy process. Again, depending on each individual child and situation, the process can be longer or shorter. Once the parent’s rights have been terminated, the child will finally be available for adoption. You will need to attend a formal finalization hearing before a judge to officially adopt the child. You will also have follow up post-placement visits with your worker.

Relative Adoptions.

As indicated above, relative adoption is the adoption of a child by a relative when the birth parent places the child in that relative’s home without a court order. However, in order for the adoption to become legal, it will have to go through the court system. This is done with a termination of parental rights hearing. The termination of parental rights hearing is conducted before a judge and removes all legal rights of the biological parents pertaining to the child. A petition to adopt the child must be filed with the courts. There will also need to be an “investigation,” which means they will conduct some of the same interviews as above to make sure the child is placed in a safe and secure home. Once all of those things check out, the hearing for adoption can be scheduled. Again, this is the same as above and is heard before a judge and makes the adoption legal and finalized.

Stepparent Adoptions.

Stepparent adoption is the adoption of a child by the spouse of one of the biological parents. The steps are the same as a relative adoption. However, it is important to note that a stepparent adoption cannot take place if a termination of parental rights is not determined. That means the other parent needs to voluntarily terminate his/her rights or you must prove that the rights need to be terminated. This can take a while to prove in the court system. Once the termination of parental rights can take place, the adoption can move forward. Again, there will be an “investigation” to make sure the best interest of the child is being served. Lastly, the adoption hearing can take place and the adoption can become legal and finalized.

Private Domestic Adoptions.

Agency:

Private domestic adoptions are when a birth mother creates an adoption plan for her unborn child. The birth father may also be involved in the process. This can be done as a private domestic adoption through an agency or as a domestic adoption. I am sort of partial to this type of adoption because that is how we were blessed with a child! A lot of the steps mentioned above are also required for a domestic adoption in Wisconsin. You will meet with an agency social worker to begin the process. You will complete an application and home study just like adopting from the foster care system. In fact, you will most likely be foster care licensed in order to adopt through a private domestic adoption. In our case, we were matched with a birth mother who chose us. While I don’t want to scare you, we waited almost six years to be matched with our son’s birth mom. I can say, looking back, it was because we were waiting for the specific child that was created for us. However, during the process, it was very difficult and emotional. Just be prepared for many different wait times during a domestic adoption.  

In addition to the paperwork, home study, background checks, etc., you will most likely be required to prepare some sort of portfolio. This will be used to show the birth moms and usually includes pictures of your family, friends, home, etc. It also can include written pieces about you and your family.   

In a domestic adoption, the legal process is pretty much the same as above as well. The birth mother’s rights will need to be terminated in a termination of parental rights hearing. This is usually done within 30 days of the birth of the child. You may take the child home with you during this time, but this is known as a legal risk. It is a risk because, during those 30 days, the birth mother could change her mind. Once the birth mother and father’s rights are terminated, there is a six-month waiting time before the adoption hearing can take place. During this time, your agency worker will be conducting visits in your home and outside of your home. This is to ensure the child’s safety and make sure everyone is adjusting to the placement. Once the six months have elapsed, the adoption hearing can take place and the adoption can become legal and finalized.

Independent:

An independent private domestic adoption is where you may already know of a prospective birth mother and only need to utilize an adoption agency or attorney for the finalization/legalization of the adoption. Again, the above requirements will also need to take place before the finalization can take place. This route may be less expensive since you could be taking on a lot of the responsibility yourself. However, there is a great deal of risk in this route as well, since the birth mother could change her mind at any point during the process.

International Adoptions.

International adoptions, also known as intercountry adoption, is the adoption of a child born in another county. Again, a lot of the same requirements as above will also be necessary in an international adoption. However, in an international adoption, you must first decide what country you want to adopt from. You may want to consider the stability of that country’s adoption process, their current political stance, travel restrictions, the country’s requirements, the type of adoptions available, the average costs of adoption, and the cost of traveling to and from that country.

Once you have decided on a country to adopt from you must choose an agency to work with. You will want to choose an agency that is Hague-accredited so that the international adoption can be completed. In order to adopt a child from another country, you must meet the Wisconsin requirements and also the requirements from whichever country you are adopting from. You must have an international home study. Please check with your agency to make sure you meet all of the country’s requirements. You must also apply for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services eligibility as well as your child’s USCIS eligibility.

Once you have been approved and matched with a child, you must make travel arrangements to go to your child’s country. Each country has different travel requirements. Make sure you know ahead of time what those are. The type of visa your child received to immigrate to the United States will determine if you need to finalize the adoption in Wisconsin or not. However, even if you finalized your adoption in your child’s country, you should complete another finalization or international re-adoption in Wisconsin. This will be a simple legal process to ensure that your child’s citizenship is legally recognized in the United States. Again, check with your adoption agency/worker to make sure you are in compliance with your child’s country of origin.

I recognize this is a very fast overview of adoption in Wisconsin, here is another article to help you even more! I hope you found this information useful, and I wish you the very best of luck with adopting!

Learn how to have a more successful adoption journey. Watch 60+ adoption leaders and experts FREE at the virtual Adoption Summit. Get your free ticket.

Jessica Heesch

Jessica Heesch

Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.